I’ve always claimed I’m not much of a LEGO builder—when I buy LEGO sets I build by the instructions. Remember when LEGO sets had alternative configurations on the back of the box? Never did build any of those, there were no explicit steps to follow.
When I started out in toy photography it was the minifigs that caught my attention. Perfectly macro-sized pre-formed things at which I could point my camera. Limited posing, limited customisation, but possible (if tricky) to set a mood and emotion for a photograph.
For years my camera has been trained on minifigs, and mostly Star Wars minifigs at that. There has always been a niggling feeling that this isn’t my stuff, that I’m just photographing things other people have designed. I’m reminded of the feeling I get when I see an impressive photograph and discover the photographer has just taken a photo of a beautiful sculpture, or a fascinating piece of graffiti. The photograph doesn’t add anything to the original.
This is partly why I’ve been playing with robots recently. It’s an area that is poorly served by stock LEGO sets. Yes, there are a few Japanese Anime-inspired mechs in the BIONICLE, Mindstorms and new Nexo Knights ranges, but that’s not my style. My robotic style is more in the vein of Matt Dixon or Goro Fujita paintings, or the robots in The Iron Giant or Laputa: Castle in the Sky. That is to say: mysterious, misunderstood, powerful but non-threatening. As far as I can tell, no-one is really making LEGO robots in that style. Oh no, I might actually have to build them myself!
Luckily I have a decent stash of LEGO, it tends to pile up while acquiring minifigs. There is something quite therapeutic about tipping boxes of bricks onto the floor and digging about finding parts that fit together to make a nice articulated shoulder joint.
With only a blurry goal of making “a robot”—just specific enough to limit my options without giving me too many avenues to get lost down—the build evolves as I find interesting pieces that will allow me to add another axis to the articulation, or bend the pose in a particular way. After an hour of crawling about in the pile of bricks I might end up with one finished robot and five half-finished machines awaiting another session (or more likely, waiting to reuse some parts from the finished ‘bot).
Getting up off the floor is certainly more difficult than it was thirty years ago—my knees never used to make noises like that—but building with a loose goal, the photo forming in my head as I’m putting the star of the show together is a rather enjoyable endeavour.